The Wild West: Wyoming Effort to Form Statewide Gaming Commission Appears Dead

Posted on: June 30, 2019, 02:07h. 

Last updated on: July 1, 2019, 07:59h.

Wyoming lawmakers believe their state has an increasing problem with illegal gaming machines, but efforts to form a regulatory commission to stem the issue before it gets worse are likely to go unaddressed for at least another year.

Wyoming State Sen. Ogden Driskill is fighting to regulate illicit gaming machines, but faces an uphill battle. (Image: Gillette News Record)

By some estimates, the state is home to more than 400 unregulated gaming machines, many of which are found in bars, gas stations, truck stops and other small businesses. Last Friday, the Wyoming legislature’s Joint Committee on Travel, Recreation and Cultural Resources withdrew support for a bill that would create a gaming commission aimed at enhancing oversight of the state’s unfettered gambling machine industry.

Earlier this year, policymakers in the Cowboy State briefly mulled the creation of a statewide regulatory body aimed at gaming, but support for that effort quickly waned.

Wyoming is home to four casinos, all of which reside more than 100 miles west of Casper. Wind River Hotel and Casino, Little Wind Casino and the Shoshone Rose Casino and Hotel, all of which are tribal entities, are the state’s largest gaming properties.

If Wyoming ever gets a gaming commission up and running, it would not pertain to the tribal casinos. Indian gaming venues around the US are regulated by the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act (IGRA), which was passed by Congress in 1988.

Show Wyoming The Money

One of the reasons some Wyoming politicians want to bring oversight to the state’s burgeoning illegal gaming machine industry is tax revenue. It is estimated the state will miss out on $4 million in receipts this year because of lack of government control over the 400-plus unregulated devices.

Four million dollars may equate to pennies for states with sprawling legitimate gaming, such as Nevada and New Jersey, but that amount is potentially important in a smaller state like Wyoming. With a population of approximately 572,000, Wyoming is one of the smallest states in the continental US, and with that number of residents, $4 million in lost gaming sales works out to be nearly $7 per resident.

Additionally, the state already has one of the lowest tax bases in the US. It is one of seven states, Nevada is another, that does not collect income taxes. The Cowboy State consistently ranks as one of the least taxed states in the US and in addition to not levying income tax, Wyoming does not charge sales tax on beer, liquor and wine.

The state’s coffers are filled primarily by the vast natural resources sector operating there. Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state, but lawmakers may be looking for alternative revenue sources, such as what currently illegal gaming machines could bring to the table if regulated, because domestic coal output is slumping.

In April, coal accounted for just 20.4 percent of power generated in the US, the lowest level in 47 years, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

More Machines, Not Less

With the failure of the gaming commission bill in the current legislative session, some politicians in Wyoming fear more illicit machines will pop up across the state until regulation is passed.

My prediction is we’re going to come back next year with nothing passed, and we’re going to be dealing with something between 800 and 1,200 machines with the number of new bartenders,” said Republican State Senator Ogden Driskill in an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune. “It’s getting harder and harder to slow that down.”

While the most recent plan to form the Wyoming Gaming Commission stalled, increased oversight does have some support from both the industry and policymakers in the state. The state already broadly regulates some forms of gambling through the Wyoming Lottery and the Pari-Mutuel Commission, the control agency for horse racing.